A senior council officer has told how the needs of people with disabilities were a key focus of designs for Huddersfield’s £210 million Cultural Heart.

David Glover, the senior officer responsible for the Cultural Heart, stressed the detailed work and consultation that had gone into the project.

Mr Glover was speaking just days after Clr Bill Armer (Con, Kirkburton) criticised the scheme’s inclusivity, claiming it “wilfully excludes disabled people.”

Clr Armer launched his attack at the Strategic Planning Committee last week where he claimed Blue Badge holders would have nowhere to park and disabled people would be deterred from visiting. Clr Armer voted to refuse planning permission but the scheme was approved.

Mr Glover gave an update of the scheme to a meeting of Kirklees Council’s Regeneration Scrutiny Panel on Monday where he outlined how consultation with disabled groups and people with disabilities was of “significant importance.”

He said the council’s aim was to go beyond best practice and added: “The Building Regulations and Equality Act set minimum standards that obviously cannot be ignored but it’s important that we go further than that.

“There has been a lot of consultation with groups and working with them in workshops, one-to-ones.

“We had an iterative design process. It’s not just a case of listening and drawing something. You listen, draw something and take it back and with that iterative process you end up with something that everybody wants.

“In helping us shape the conversation with the disabled groups we employed a very experienced disability and inclusivity consultant Jane Simpson Access Ltd, based in Huddersfield.

“Jane and her team have over 30 years’ experience in inclusion and represents the Royal Institute of British Architects on a number of different panels and she has been advising us on going beyond best practice.”

Mr Glover said the design team had worked with officers across the council including the dementia strategic partnership manager and consulted with Kirklees Disability Network.

The result had been some 25 design solutions aimed at helping people with disabilities. These included:

  • A new publicly accessible lift adjacent to the new library down from the urban park to Queensgate open 24 hours a day;
  • Areas of rest – seating integrated into stairs;
  • Taxi drop-off points close to building entrances;
  • Covered areas of seating;
  • 10% wheelchair accessible parking;
  • Sensory and calm rooms across various buildings;
  • Contrasting materials for public realm furniture to ensure it does not cause problems for partially-sighted people or those with dementia.

Mr Glover also revealed more details about phase one of the Cultural Heart which will see the former Queensgate Market building become a food court with an extension to create a new library.

The former Dorothy Perkins retail unit at the side of Huddersfield Town Hall will be demolished and a public events square built in its place.

The square will have a paving design which reflects the town’s textile heritage and will be branded with a ‘Made in Huddersfield’ motif. The square will also be set off with water features.

The final sign-off for phase one is likely to go to the council’s Cabinet for approval in June 2023 after which a contractor will be appointed.

It is thought work could start in March 2024 with completion in October or November 2025.

Under questioning from councillors, Mr Glover confirmed that the scheme remained within budget thanks to a built-in “inflation allowance” that took account of rising costs.

With fingers crossed, Mr Glover added: “We don’t envisage any difficulties achieving that budget.”

Mr Glover said the original plan was to build the whole scheme simultaneously but the phasing was a “prudence and affordability” decision by the Cabinet.

Joanne Bartholomew, the council’s director of development, stressed that phasing didn’t mean that one phase had to finish before another could start. It was about making the works fit together with a minimal impact on the town centre.